Florida, despite its Sunshine State nickname, boasts more indoor tanning facilities than CVS pharmacies or even McDonald's restaurants, according to a new report by University of Miami doctors studying whether skin cancer can be traced to geographic areas.
"We were shocked," said Dr. Robert Kirsner, a UM Miller School of Medicine dermatology professor. "Even in the Sunshine State, where we get plenty of exposure, the beds are proliferating."
Kirsner has been working with colleagues to see whether melanoma can be linked to specific areas in Florida, which has the country's second-highest rate of melanoma.
Although the doctors say they will need more research before they can determine whether the proliferation of tanning beds is a contributing factor in the cancer clusters, they wrote a letter published in the Journal of the American Medical Association to raise the issue because previous research shows links between skin cancer and the use of tanning beds.
Indoor tanning has been linked to melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer development in many studies, especially for people who tan before the age of 35. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the World Health Organization have both declared ultraviolet radiation from tanning beds and sun lamps as known carcinogens.
The UM researchers determined the number of registered Florida tanning facilities from Florida Department of Health data, then compared the number. to the number of other common Florida businesses. They found that Florida has more than 1,261 tanning facilities, 868 McDonald's restaurants and 693 CVS pharmacies. The state has a tanning salon for every 15,113 people -- about one every 50 square miles.
Kirsner said the proliferation of indoor tanning locations was most disturbing because young people are the biggest users. Forty percent of teenage girls use indoor tanning, and the incidence of melanoma in young women and girls has more than doubled in the last 30 years, according to the report.
"We found 100 facilities associated with college dormitories and residences. Many of the facilities are associated with wellness centers and health spas, when it's quite the opposite. They're a health detriment," Kirsner said.
While most of the data around indoor tanning has focused on white populations, the researchers found previously that in certain ZIP codes of Miami-Dade, the death rates from melanoma were higher due to later diagnoses of the disease. The outcomes were linked to disparities such as living in poverty. "While there's no doubt the incidence of melanoma is higher in white populations, blacks and Hispanics -- if they get the cancer -- have higher mortality because they're diagnosed later," Kirsner said.
Nationally, more than a million people a day use a tanning salon, and nearly 70 percent are white women aged 16 to 29, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Several states this year, including Illinois, Texas, Nevada, New Jersey and Connecticut, passed regulations prohibiting the use of tanning facilities by minors.
State Sen. Eleanor Sobel, a Democrat from Hollywood, proposed legislation this year in Florida that would have banned the use of tanning beds for children under 16, and required parental consent for those from 16 to 18 years old. The bill died in committee.
Kirsner and his colleagues believe there is ample research to warrant age limits on tanning bed use in Florida and restrictions on marketing tactics such as complimentary tanning sessions.
This story was produced in partnership with Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health policy research and communication organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.
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